What do I Grow?

“What do I grow?” That is a question I ask myself every year when I start thinking about my garden. And the answer is different every year. In my previous home, my garden was much larger, so I had a lot more options. Over the 11 years I worked in that garden, I planted lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, corn, broccoli, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, squash, peas, green beans, potatoes, and flowers. No two years were the same.

Now I live in a home with more shade trees, so my garden is smaller. This will be my third year of deciding what to plant here. Since space is tight, I have to be more selective about what I plant. So, I do three things when deciding what to grow.

  1. I take into account my family’s preferences. I have learned over the years that my family prefers peppers fresh out of the garden, but they prefer it if I make the tomatoes into juice and freeze it for soups and sauces in the winter. This tells me I need to plant several different types of peppers, but I only need to plant tomatoes that are good for freezing.
  2. I ask my children what they would like to plant. I always let my children pick a packet of seeds they want to plant because it makes them more interested in the garden. They do a better job of pulling the weeds when they are motivated to see their little seeds grow into big plants. Some years their choices work out and some years they don’t, and that is ok.
  3. I consider my space. After I have thought about my family’s preferences and found out what my children want to plant, I consider how much space I have left. With my extra space, I may try something new or I may plant something just for me. Last summer I planted a beautiful yellow zucchini plant that was just for me.

Later this summer, when I start to harvest my garden, I will give you an update on my choices for this year.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Benefitting from Our Neighbor’s Talents

Gardening is not my strong suit. Quite honestly, the thought of gardening and planting flowers brings a lot of stress! After years of attempting to garden and losing motivation due to brown flowers and plants, I eventually came to terms with the fact that my family’s produce would need to be purchased from the grocery store or a local farmer’s market. Fortunately, one of our neighbors has a gift and has planted a garden to share with a few families on our street. Like mentioned in the previous gardening posts, our neighbor has done the research to determine what items to grow in her garden. With a lot of trial and error, she has become quite successful!

Although I don’t grow my own garden, my family has been able to benefit from our neighbor’s talents and enjoy the fruit of her labor. Before the growing season begins, she asks for our input on what seeds to purchase and takes donations from neighbors to help offset the cost of seeds, dirt, fencing (to attempt to keep away the bunnies), and additional items she may need to purchase to upgrade her garden space. As part of our contribution, our toddler provides art for her garden space and neighbors help by pulling weeds and planting. As the vegetables begin to grow, she divides up the produce and shares it with those who have made contributions. We have learned a lot from our neighbor over the past few years and gardening has helped us build a new connection with her.

Neighborhood gardens can be a great way to use everyone’s skills and share in some of the costs. We don’t have the time or the space to create a successful garden in our backyard, so having a neighbor who enjoys the work and is willing to share her talents with us has been a great experience. Check out this Neighborhood Gardens blog from our friends over at AnswerLine that highlights additional tips on how to get started!

Later this summer I will be sharing what our neighbor has been able to grow, as well as different recipes we will make at home with the fresh produce.

Cheers to building connections through neighborhood gardens!

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a new mom she is always on the lookout for easy, healthy recipes to prepare for her family.

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Growing Vegetables in Pots

This week in our gardening series, I’m going to share the plans my son and I have for doing some container gardening at our house.

Growing up on a farm, I helped my mom with our garden. And one year I even planned the garden out and had it as a 4-H project. Since that time though, the only gardening I’ve done was a few years ago when my daughter was a toddler and my son was 5 or 6 and I tried growing some carrots, lettuce and tomatoes in pots on our deck. It went….okay. The tomatoes were too big for the pot so they didn’t grow that well and the carrots were too bunched so didn’t grow very big. Lessons learned!

Fast forward to this year when my son is 11 and is interested in having a garden. Instead of digging up a space in our yard, we’ve decided to grow a few things in containers on our deck again. We have a neighbor who is a talented woodworker who made some wooden planters for us to use.

My son and I have decided to grow cherry tomatoes, peppers, and some lettuce. I’d also like to grow some basil. To help me do a better job at choosing varieties of these vegetables that grow well in containers, I’m going to use this handout on Container Vegetable Gardening. I’m looking forward to this gardening adventure with my kids! Check back later this summer and see if things are going better than they did the last time I tried growing vegetables in a pot!

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Herb Gardening in Small Spaces

Last week we heard about our friend Jill’s experience with gardening throughout her life. She shared some wonderful tips for planning a garden and using the information on seed packets to help you make decisions. I would like to share a slightly different perspective. I live in a small house and I do not have land to till up and plant a garden. I still love to grow some food though, so I do container gardening.

Container gardening is a very simple approach to gardening that allows you to use a patio or porch to grow food in pots or other containers. It is helpful when you do not have land to till up or when you just want to grow a few plants and not a whole garden.

Herbs are my favorite food to grow in the summer in Iowa. They thrive in the sun and warm weather. They are easy to maintain. I just water them whenever their soil becomes dry to the touch. Herbs will even grow inside if you have a very sunny window for them. It is so wonderful to be able to snip a few sprigs to add flavor to my cooking. Herbs are rather expensive at the grocery store and they spoil quickly, so being able to cut them from the back patio is a real treat.

  • Parsley is delightful in salads and as a final topper for things like roasted veggies or fish.
  • Basil tastes delicious with tomatoes and pasta. I also love sliced basil stirred into cottage cheese.
  • Rosemary, sage and thyme are tasty additions to roasted veggies. Toss them with the veggies before cooking and enjoy.

If you have a sunny spot and a sturdy container of soil, you’re ready to get started! For a bit more information, check out Growing Herbs in Containers from our friends in Iowa State University’s Horticulture department. Next week Jody will share about her experience growing vegetables in containers at her house.

Happy Gardening!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Gardening Starts With the Seeds

Each year, as the days get longer and temperatures rise, garden catalogs begin to fill our mailbox and planning for our garden begins once again.  My husband and I each grew up in homes with large vegetable gardens.  His mom had a separate potato garden and my family sold sweet corn and tomatoes at our farm.  I remember dad putting the sign up at the end of our driveway each summer.   My family used the money we made selling tomatoes and sweet corn for a summer vacation just before school started.   As you might imagine, my husband and I have enjoyed planning, planting and harvesting our own vegetable garden through the years.  What we plant and how big our garden is has changed through the years, as the season of our life dictates. Some years, our schedule for the summer hasn’t allowed time for gardening, and what we plant has also changed as our interest in certain vegetables has changed.   

So, what do we grow?  We enjoy growing tomatoes, onions, peppers, several kinds of herbs, carrots, broccoli, kale, lettuce and spinach. 

Questions we ask ourselves as we decide what to grow include: What do we like to eat?  How much space will it take to grow?  Is there another way to obtain this food?  How expensive is it to buy?  How difficult is it to grow?

Once we decide what we are going to grow, it’s time to find the best way to grow it.  You can buy seeds and you can also buy small plants to transplant into your garden.  As seasonal stores open up in grocery store parking lots and at local nurseries, you will find seed displays and often small plants to purchase.  One place you can check with for seeds is at your local county extension office.  They sometimes give away free seeds.  These seeds are typically last season’s seeds—but are still a great source for free seeds.  You can also use your SNAP benefits to buy seeds. 

The next step is to plan your garden.  You will need to consider how much space each item you plant will need, how deep to plant them and how much product you can expect. The seed packet will have information on it to help you answer these questions. Be sure and read both sides to help you be successful with your garden.  It’s a good idea to keep track of when you plant the seed. We write the date on our calendar.  Keeping track of the date will help you know when to expect to be able to harvest the produce.   

The seed packet will tell you:

  • The company the seed is from and how much seed you will get in the packet.  
  • A picture of what you will be growing.
  • The kind of seed and the name of the variety. 
  • How much sun the growing plant prefers and the height of the mature plant. 
  • Where and when to plant the seed.  There are often also brief statements about how to prepare and use the item you will be growing. 
  • How to plant the seed, how long of row or how many hills the seeds will plant. 
  • How many days it will take after planting for the seeds to germinate or sprout. You will be able to find how many days it will take after planting for the seeds to mature and you will be able to harvest a crop.
  •  Conditions the plant will grow in, what the plant prefers.
  • How to harvest and use the produce.

You may think gardens require a big piece of land, but they do not have to. If your schedule is busy, or you don’t have access to a garden plot, consider container gardening.  Tomatoes and peppers grow well in containers on a porch or front step.  Some communities also offer community garden plots where you can rent space to grow your garden. 

If you would like additional garden information, check out this publication from ISU Extension and Outreach.  Want Yard or Garden Information? Ask Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Written by Jill Weber

Human Sciences Specialist, Nutrition and Wellness

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Container Gardening: Big Benefits in Small Spaces

The interest in growing our own produce increases daily. Everyone can garden, even apartment dwellers and those with limited outdoor space. The Sow, Grow, Eat and Keep series is helping Iowans learn to grow their own food at home. This week’s “Sow, Grow, Eat and Keep” video from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach addresses how to start a container garden to grow tasty foods at home. 

Container gardens offer many benefits including:

  • Requires less space than a traditional garden.
  • Can be done on a porch or patio.
  • Can be placed at a height that reduces bending.

There are many ways to create a container garden. You can use a variety of flower pots or larger containers, such as large plastic buckets, or build raised bed gardens. Almost any vegetable can be grown in a container garden. The best plants are those that are smaller and bushier and do not require staking. Check out the ISU Extension and Outreach publications Container Vegetable Gardening and Container Gardening FAQs.

ISU Extension and Outreach will continue hosting weekly “Sow, Grow, Eat and Keep” quickinars. The quickinars offer 5-15 minute online lessons of seasonally appropriate topics for the garden, food preparation and food preservation. Some upcoming topics include:

  • Cool and warm season crops (lettuce, spinach, peas)
  • Freezing produce
  • Freezer jams (strawberry)
  • Scouting for garden pests
  • Weeding and watering basics
  • Produce food safety
  • Canning produce

For additional resources and publications, visit the Sow, Grow, Eat, and Keep website. Send your food or garden questions to sowgroweatkeep@iastate.edu.

Written by guest bloggers Ruth Litchfield and Sarah Francis. Doctors Litchfield and Francis are faculty in the ISU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.

flower pot

Growing Herbs

Flat parsley growing in rows in the garden bed

In the spirit of gardening, today I am going to continue our series and talk about growing herbs. Growing herbs at home can save you money because buying fresh and dried herbs at the store can add up quickly. Growing herbs is something that started as a fluke for me and has turned into a passion.

I bought a sad looking oregano plant at a sale the first year we were in our home. I planted it just outside the kitchen window in a dry, empty patch of dirt where nothing grew. Now, ten years later, that oregano plant is still alive and thriving. Over the years we have added and removed herbs from my little herb garden. This year we will have oregano and chives (which come back every year) and basil, dill, and parsley (which my son and his grandpa started from seeds).

A little herb garden is so much fun for children. I love to watch my children plant and care for the herbs, smell them, taste them, and add them to recipes. If you do not have space for an herb garden, consider planting an herb container. Place it near your kitchen so you have easy access when you need to add flavor to a recipe.

A great thing about herbs is that they are low maintenance. Plant them, or place containers, in a sunny spot because herbs love sun. Make sure your soil, or your container, drains water well because herbs do not like to sit in wet soil. Water them when the soil is dry to the touch.

Best of luck with your herb garden!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Let’s Grow Tomatoes!

Cherry tomatoesLast week Christine shared about how she grows greens in containers on her patio. This week I am going to share about my gardening experiences with tomatoes. My family and I have a pretty large garden in our back yard. We usually fill about half of it with tomato plants because we love to eat them fresh and make them into tomato juice to enjoy all year long.

This “Tomatoes” growing guide is a great read if you are interested in trying some tomatoes in your garden this year or if you would like to improve the health and yield of your tomato plants. Here are some practical tips I have picked up as I have experimented with growing tomatoes in my own garden:

  • Choose the right varieties of tomatoes for my garden. This one takes a little trial and error. I have found that Better Boy and Super Sweet 100 tomatoes grow best in my garden.
  • Plant tomatoes between May 15th and June 1st. After May 15th, I should be able to avoid frost killing my plants. If I get my plants in before June 1st, I can enjoy a longer growing season and a higher yield.
  • Use tomato cages. Large, tall tomato cages allow the plants to grow big, healthy, and strong. They are also easier to manage than tomatoes that are staked up or tomatoes that are allowed to grow along the ground.

Thankfully, you do not need a large garden to enjoy growing fresh tomatoes at home.  Depending on the plant size, tomatoes can be grown in 2-4 gallon containers. The Container Vegetable Gardening guide gives ideas for the variety of tomato that would be best for your home.

I hope you can get outside and enjoy gardening this year!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Spring Produce

Each spring I love watching the plants pop up out of the ground.  Some days I feel like I can see the plants growing in my yard.  Now that we are in April, more and more fresh spring produce is popping up in the stores and in gardens.

Buying fruits and vegetables that are in season gets you the tastiest produce for the least cost.  Here are some fruits and vegetables that are in season in the spring:

  • Asparagus – snap off the woody ends and grill, steam, or roast.
  • Broccoli – cut into florets and eat raw, steam, or roast.
  • Rhubarb – eat only the reddish stalk; find out more on the AnswerLine Blog.
  • Snow peas – eat raw or add to stir-fry.
  • Spinach – eat in a salad, top off a sandwich, or add to a smoothie.
  • Strawberries – eat on their own or as a topping to your favorite dessert.

I hope you get to enjoy some fresh spring produce this week!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Growing and Using Fresh Herbs

basils2I have had good luck growing culinary herbs in pots on my sunny deck. I have also grown them in the garden in well-drained soil. I enjoy being able to experiment with fresh herbs in my cooking. Plus, you can buy herb plants for about the same price as you buy one bunch at the store.

Below are some brief tips on growing and using herbs. If you want more information, check out From Garden to Table: Harvesting Herbs for Healthy Eating by North Dakota State University

 

Common Name

Growing Suggestions & Tips Ideas for Using in Cooking
Basil Likes sunny but sheltered spots. Space 8-12” apart. Grows well in containers. Good border plant. Dark green leaves have sweet flavor with mild pungency. Tomatoes; in fresh pesto; pasta sauce, peas, zucchini
Mint (including spearmint and peppermint) Has tendency to spread invasively in outdoor gardens. Purple flowers. Refreshing odor & flavor. Often used as a garnish. Roots easily from stem cuttings. Used with carrots, fruit salads, parsley, peas, desserts, spring rolls. salads, sauces
Oregano Grows well in containers. Can also propagate from cuttings or division of the mature plant. tomato dishes, beef, spaghetti, clams, soups (bean, minestrone, and tomato), beans, eggplant, and mushrooms
Parsley Grows well in a container. Keep trimmed so plant does not develop flowers. salads, vegetables, pastas
Rosemary Grows well in a container. chicken, fish, lamb, pork, roasted potatoes, soups, stews, tomatoes

parsleyHerbs should be purchased or picked close to the time you plan to use them. If you grow herbs in your own garden, the best time to harvest herbs is in the morning after the dew is off but the sprigs are fresh. This helps ensure the best flavor and storage quality.

Fresh herbs can be stored in an open or perforated plastic bag in your refrigerator crisper drawer for a few days. If you have more herbs than you can eat, put them in bouquets either alone or as part of a flower bouquet. Fresh herbs can also be dried and frozen.

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